How I Recovered Data from a Failed Disk

I recently upgraded to an Apple M1 Mac Mini after running various Hackintosh capable hardware configurations for nearly 15 years. A Hackintosh is MacOS installed on non-Apple hardware – something which was easily possible on Intel-based PCs. Starting with certain models introduced in late 2020, Apple began the transition from Intel processors to Apple silicon in Mac computers. The M1 is the first generation Apple silicon chip and offers several speed and power advantages over Intel based chips.

In all my years of using a Hackintosh, I never faced any kind of hard disk failure, and consequent loss of data. However, within a month of purchasing the M1 Mac Mini, two of my 3.5 inch hard disks which were in an external hard disk enclosure (DAS), failed.

Before I get into the details, let me clarify a few things:

  1. I am not implying that the M1 Mac Mini had something to do with the hard disk failure/data corruption. However, in all my Hackintoshes, the 3.5 inch hard disks were directly connected to the motherboard. This meant that the hard disks always woke up and shut down with the computer. My Hackintoshes also had high quality power supply units, providing stable power to all components.
  2. The two hard disks failed one after the other, and not at the same time. One of the hard disks was a 12TB EXOS from Western Digital, while the other one was a 6TB Western Digital Black hard disk. They were both inside a Terra Master TD2 Thunderbolt 3 enclosure, configured in single-disk mode. This means that the disks were not in JBOD or RAID configuration.
  3. According to the compatibility matrix on the Terra Master website, the EXOS 12 TB is not compatible with the Terra Master TD2 Thunderbolt 3 enclosure. The EXOS 12 TB was the first one to fail, so I attributed this to the incompatibility. However, the 6TB Western Digital Black is compatible with the Terra Master TD2 Thunderbolt 3 enclosure and it failed after a few weeks, thus leading me to conclude that hard disk compatibility had nothing to do with the failure.
  4. The Terra Master TD2 Thunderbolt 3 enclosure is a DAS (and not NAS). It is connected to my M1 Mac mini via a Terra Master provided Thunderbolt 3 cable.
  5. The hard disks already had data, before I put them inside the enclosure.

Hard disk failures can be of two types – physical failure of the disk, or corruption of the file system. Physical failure of hard disks can be fatal for the data in it. Only professional hard disk data recovery companies can retrieve the data from such a disk. Also, it is very difficult for an ordinary non-technical person to ascertain the cause of failure. But I was pretty sure that the hard disk did not have bad sectors or physical damage. This is because they both stopped working suddenly, with no clicking sounds from the hard disk. When a hard disk makes weird noises, it is generally indicative of a physical failure.

With the failed disks in the DAS, every time the Mac Mini powered on, I would see a message, “The disk you attached was not readable by this computer.” The only options I had was to initialise the disk, eject it, or ignore the error message. I had no access to the data in the disk!

Imagine, 6 TB + 12TB of data going bad. Luckily for me, the 12TB EXOS hard disk contained data which was completely backed up in another hard disk. The 6TB hard disk had media from a recent photography assignment, which was not backed up. I was yet to deliver the images and videos to the client, so I had to access the data on the 6TB hard disk at any cost.

Here are the steps I followed to get my data back:

  1. I tried the ‘First Aid’ option in the Big Sur Disk Utility app to see if the partition can be repaired. This did not help in any way. I find the dumbed down version of Disk Utility in Big Sur pretty useless.
  2. I put the hard disk in an external USB hard disk enclosure to rule out any issues with the Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. This did not make any difference either.
  3. After googling for solutions, I came across a free MacOS software called TestDisk. Among the many things which TestDisk is capable of, it can fix a partition table and/or recover deleted partitions.

Unfortunately, TestDisk can only run from the Terminal. It is a command line utility. However, there is a paid companion app called Disk Drill Data Recovery Software, made by Clever Files, which has a UI. Disk Drill is based on TestDisk.

Disk Drill, like TestDisk, can do many things, including data recovery of deleted files in Mac OS X. I used it to successfully recover the assignment files which were not backed up from the corrupted partition of my 6TB Western Digital Black disk.

Disk Drill works by running different levels of scans on the hard disk. It is quite comforting to know that Disk Drill will show you the failed partition, while Disk Utility or Finder will not. A Deep Scan runs for several hours, and is your best bet to find all the files from the damaged partition.

After Disk Drill ran for a couple of hours on my hard disk, I noticed that it reported plenty of orphaned files. This lead me to conclude that the file system failure was pretty severe. The problem with file system failure on a disk which contains thousands of images is that you will never know if every recovered file is intact. It is hard to test the integrity of the recovered files when there is a large number of images. Luckily, I was able to retrieve the data which mattered to me the most – files from my photography assignment.

Why did the data on my hard disk get corrupted? Why did the partition fail? Was it because of the Terra Master DAS? Honestly, I will never know. I only know that in all the years of using hard disks directly connected to my motherboard, I never faced any problem. Also, what should I do to prevent such a failure in future? Of course, ejecting a disk before removing it from the Mac is something everyone should follow. Is it safe to keep the DAS running always, even when the Mac is shut down? Can I eject the disks from Finder, but still keep the DAS running? I wish had answers to these questions.

I did ask in the Terra Master forum as to why two of my hard disks failed after putting them in the DAS. The reply I got from the support team wasn’t satisfactory. They asked me to follow best practises such as formatting the disks in HFS+ or APFS format, and safely unmounting/ejecting the disk before removing them. From what I remember, I have never removed the hard disks without ejecting them because the DAS is always connected to the Mac Mini.

I have stayed away from a real Mac for many years because I was never comfortable with external hard disk solutions. The world of technology is very confusing and misleading. There is a big push for NAS systems but honestly, not everyone needs one. The NAS world is ridden with confusing terminology. NAS systems also come at an unnecessary premium. At the end of the day, all I need is a computer which allows me to work on data which is important to me. Management of that data shouldn’t really be such a big headache.

My worst fears of using external disks came true within a month of finally buying a Mac Mini – my first real Mac. Luckily, thanks to Disk Drill, I was able to recover my data. Going forward, I am going to take data backup more seriously!

Popular OLX Scams and Why They Still Work

Olx is a website where you can put up new or used stuff on sale. I don’t think Olx really monitors the quality of the items you post, so you could claim anything in your ad. .

Scammers are always on the prowl on Olx. Whether you are a buyer or seller, it won’t be long before you come across someone trying to rob you of your money.

Olx Buying Scams

Here is how con-men start their conversation when you have something on sale:

The seemingly harmless message is start of a long scam where you are tricked into sending your item to an address outside your city before receiving payment.  And the money for your item? It will never reach you. But the con-men will send you screenshots of fake bank transfers to show you that they have paid you. This is an old trick, and I generally just delete these messages.

Olx Selling Scams

Then there is the other type of scam – where you are the buyer and you come across a product and the price is tempting. In fact, it is too good to  be true. For example, this camera and lens is selling at half the price of what it is supposed to be selling for:

Just to see how far this seller would go, to scam me, I chatted with him on WhatsApp. The conversation that ensued was full of inconsistencies. Of course, I knew this was a scam, but I was curious because the seller’s ad on Olx mentioned that the product is in my city.

In the first two screenshots, the seller tries to convince me that he is selling a genuine product. He says he can deliver it to my place. He even shows me the bill.

The items in the bill did not match the products he had advertised for, but let’s not kill the fun right here, shall we?

After a lot of insisting that I would like to inspect the product, the seller relented.

He very confidently asks me to come to Arunachal Pradesh to inspect/buy the camera. Maybe he thought I’d fall for the authenticity of his words. But I did not, because he had told me he can deliver the product from Arunachal Pradesh to Bangalore in one day. So I asked him.

I decided to let go at this point of time because clearly, he was being very stupid. The distance between the address he mentioned, and my house, is 3000 km. And there are no direct flights.

Why Are There So Many Scams?

There are so many scams on Olx because there are a LOT of very stupid people on the internet. When I sell stuff on Olx, I always come across such people. Some are ill-mannered, some can’t read, and some just have a lot of time on their hands.

Here are the types of buyers have come across on Olx.

The Ones Who Lack Manners

These types of people are the most popular ones on Olx.  In the recent times, thanks to low-cost smartphones and cheap Internet, a lot of Indians have gone online. And the way we Indians behave online for everyone in the world to see. I think as a nation, we are by far the most ill-mannered people.

On Olx, you will find a lot of people who don’t believe in greeting, thanking, or closing discussions. Their messages are an example of how our education system has completely failed in teaching  us about basic courtesy.

Not closing a discussion is very common on Olx.

The Ones Who Try to Act Smart

This is the second most popular category of Olx buyers. They think they are smarter than you, but their words and actions don’t really prove so.

The dumbest of this type goes to Amazon, types the name of the product you are selling, and tries to prove to you that your product is over priced. Until now, all the people who have behaved this way with me have either not looked for the correct product, or not included everything I am offering on sale when searching. And it is not like Amazon is the hallmark of safe buying. There are sellers on Amazon who ship from overseas, but don’t mention that clearly in the description.

Another way of trying to act smart includes comparing products purchased in India with Indian warranty with prices abroad. For example, if you are selling a product which was purchased in India and has local, country specific warranty, it is not fair to compare the price of the same product in the international market where the price might be lower, but there is no warranty available in India. So it is never an apples to apples comparison.

 The Desperate Ones

I feel sorry for these guys. Because they very badly want what you are selling, but don’t want to pay for it. So they first lowball, and then try to justify their price.

These guys all have some theory that if it is a second hand product, the cost automatically drops to half or lesser, even if it is a day old.

The Ones Who Cannot Read

Even after you take great pains to put up all the details about your item in the Olx description, there will be people asking you very basic questions. I wonder if these people have a language problem, or reading problem. Here are a few examples.

Does it Have to be so Taxing?

The reason why I created this blog post is to show how a useful platform where buyers and sellers can meet to mutually benefit from each other’s needs (of selling and buying) has turned into a complex and dark place where Sigmund Freud would have loved to hang out.

When a seller puts something on sale, all they expect is to find someone who matches his expected price. If he doesn’t find such a buyer, it is up to the seller to lower the offer price or decide not to sell the product.

Thanks to the kind of people I have come across, online selling is a mentally draining activity. One must be prepared to get cheated, offended, abused and trolled by people who just don’t understand basic decent behavior and courtesy. All this only ends up sucking you of your energy and time.

But this is the direction in which all social media networks are headed, right?

 

I Lost Access to My Instagram Account

Instagram can be addictive. What happens if you are locked out and you cannot get your daily dose of the gram? It happened to me over a weekend. It was my own doing, but I also realised that Instagram has an unconventional way of verifying an account to restore access to it.

Before continuing, here is my Instagram handle. Follow me for photos from the beautiful outdoors of India. https://www.instagram.com/pixelshooter/

So here is what happened.

Instagram Two-Factor Authentication

I turned on two-factor authentication for my instagram account a month ago. I access my account from multiple devices (home, work, phone etc). Sometimes Instagram goes overboard with anti-spam protection and prevents me from performing legitimate actions. I even got shadow-banned for accessing Instagram from my desktop, but I fixed that problem. If you are interested in knowing how, drop a comment down in this article.

So with two-factor authentication, I not only wanted Instagram to secure my account, but I also wanted those silly “Action Blocked” messages to go away.

Instagram’s two-factor authentication requires you to enter a code in the authentication screen, after you log in using your password. This code can either be sent to you via text message, or is generated in an app such as Google Authenticator.

At first, I choose SMS based two-factor authentication. But due to delays in receiving the SMS, I turned on Google Authenticator based two-factor authentication. When I did this, Instagram sent me backup codes. Backup codes are to be used when you don’t have access to the authenticator app. And I did not save the backup codes. This proved to be a grave oversight on my part!

I had to reset my iPhone which is the primary device where I have the Instagram app installed. All data, including the Instagram and Google Authenticator app was wiped out when I reset my phone. After reinstalling Google Authenticator I could not complete the setup process because I did not have access to the Instagram app. This meant that I was effectively locked out of the app!

Instagram Support Interaction

I contacted Instagram via the login screen on the app. I promptly got an email which had an amusing set of instructions.

They wanted to see my selfie! And if my Instagram account had no pictures that showed my face, I would never be able to access my instagram account!

Now, this is a really strange way for a company to offer support to its users. What if you are a photographer who posts all sorts of photos except one of yourself? Or what if you were handling the account of a popular brand? How do you prove to Instagram that you are asking for legitimate help? From this email it was clear that Instagram expects you to have photos of yourself in your account. Who would have thought so!

Luckily for me, my feed had 2 photos where my face was clearly seen. So I emailed them a selfie with a piece of paper that had the information they wanted.

I immediately got another email asking for more information. This included details which I had to recall from memory.

At this point, I had many questions.

  1. How will non-technical users of Instagram know details such as whice Operating System they used to sign up for their account?
  2. Does Instagram actually expect us to remember such details?
  3. If Instagram is meant for selfies, why are they so big on security? After all, their own two-factor authentication scenario did not take into consideration what happened to me.
  4. Why can’t they just send a code via SMS to complete the authentication process in a situation where the user does not have access to Google Authenticator?

Actually, I don’t remember when I signed up for Instagram. I certainly don’t remember what OS or device I was on. So I provided them with information on how I currently access Instagram. As of now I am waiting for a reply to my support query. I may never be able to access my account. I will update the outcome here.

UPDATE:

So after another email where Instagram said some idiotic stuff, I got access to my account. I would like to believe they relented because I questioned their logic – what’s the use of protecting the privacy an account that may never be accessed ever again?

.

Bastar, Chattisgarh

Update: See my travelogue here: http://www.pratapj.com/travel/waterfalls-bastar-region-chhattisgarh/

I’m sitting in a railway station in Jagdalpur. My journey thus far has been great. I wanted to see a few known and lesser known waterfalls in Chattisgarh and I was able to so without hiccups.

Given my luck, I consider this an accomplishment. Two months ago I missed my flight after being stuck in a landslide. And a few months prior to that, I got to witness exactly what I wanted to, but I wasn’t prepared with the the right kind of gear. And I don’t know how it would be from now till I reach home in two days.

My train is already late by an hour. And it takes 10 hours to cover 400 odd kms. Not something I’m looking forward to. This journey to Chattisgarh could have been planned more efficiently, if I had the right kind of information to go by. Every tourism board wants to promote destinations within their state, but there is seldom enough information for travellers like me to make bullet proof plans.

Bloggers, backpackers and intrepid travellers are supposed to fill this void. But we live in times of shallow travel blogging, with influencers and social media PR agencies killing the spirit of self publishing.

Given the scarce information on how to easily visit the Baster region in Chattisgarh in three days, I’m much obliged to come up with a post on www.pratapj.com. I did this trip solo, with a heavy pack full of photography gear. For now, here are some iPhone pics and vids till I get back to my computer.

A Group for Landscape Photographers

When I started photography, JJ Mehta Photograpy Forum (JJMPF) was a great place to hang out. Along with Bangalore Photography Forum (which is now extinct), JJMPF was where many of us used to post photos for critique.  After almost 10 years of interacting with members there, I finally met a few of them today. The meeting was planned on a Whatsapp group. We visited a beautiful lake off AH 48.  I had previously visited a hillock near the lake on Jan 31st for a super moon/lunar eclipse shoot (video here).

The idea of forming a Whatsapp group for nature and outdoor photographers occurred to me when a post of mine on JJMPF saw queries about locations to shoot around Bangalore. These days here in India, WhatsApp groups are where the action is, albeit mostly the spammy kind. Unfortunately many of the photography groups have too many members with various agendas. I wanted to create a group for only like minded photographers. Having visited numerous lakes and hillocks, I have a fair idea of places for landscape and nature photography within 100km from the city. So after the interactions on JJMPF, I created a WA group and added photographers with the intention of planning and going on shoots together.

Now, unlike regular photowalk groups, were a bunch of people get together and walk the lanes of Bangalore and shoot street photos, nature/landscape/outdoor photography is a different ballgame. For one, it involves heading out for shoots at unearthly hours (I was up by 3 am today). Since we go far away from the city, transport is something each person needs to have figured out. Lastly, it is difficult to shoot photos of nature when in a large group. Outings I have been on have always been in twos, threes or fours at the most.

DJI_0031.jpg

Today for the first time, I was part of a larger group. We first did some planning on Whatsapp using Google maps. After checking out the blue hour and golden hour timings, we met up on the highway after the Tumkur Road toll booth. We were 7 of us in two cars, coming from different parts of the city. After chai on the highway and quick introductions, we continued to our location, even overshooting a right turn and missing our intended route. After making a U turn, we were back on track and at our destination by 6 am.

It was a rather quiet and uneventful sunrise. I got to test the 6D which I have in mind as a second body (last week, I tested the 6D Mark II with my Irix 15mm f2.5 lens).  I used the A7rII for shooting a time lapse.

Here are two photos from today.

IMG_9353-Edit.jpg

IMG_9365-Edit.jpg

Personally, I am quite pleased with the results from the 6D. I even got a chance to fly my Mavic. One of the photographers in the group was shooting with an IR modified camera.

Unfortunately, summer is almost here. The transition from night to day and vice versa will only get increasingly quicker. The skies will mostly be boring. The next three months are not going to be conducive for landscape photography. Our only option would be to shoot the night sky. Places such as the one we visited today are potential spots for future Milky Way shoots. Let’s see if forming a group is going to help in going on more such fruitful trips. Definitely safer to be at remote locations at odd hours when in a larger group!

DJI_0014.jpg